Drug consumption rooms ruled out by government

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A syringe with heroineImage source, John Moore

The UK government has dismissed a call from its own advisory body to consider introducing drug consumption rooms.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) had said the rooms, dubbed "shooting galleries", had the potential to reduce drug deaths.

The rooms offer a space for users to take class A drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.

The government said it has no plans to back consumption rooms but policies could be developed by local bodies.

Clean needles

In response to a record number of drug deaths, ACMD recommended in 2016 that "consideration should be given" to the introduction of drug consumption rooms.

But the official response to the ACMD report has now dismissed the proposal, stating "the government has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms".

It added: "It is for local areas in the UK to consider, with those responsible for law enforcement, how best to deliver services to meet their local population needs."

The use of shooting galleries has proved divisive, with some claiming it amounts to the state helping people take illegal drugs.

Under the scheme, drug users visiting a consumption room would be provided with clean needles, while medical staff would be on hand to prevent overdoses or give advice about entering a recovery programme.

The medical staff would not provide the user with illegal drugs.

Image source, Spencer Platt
Image caption,
Drug consumption rooms would provide users with clean needles to prevent infections

The ACMD report said drug consumption rooms in Canada, the USA and Europe had been shown to cut the number of overdose related deaths. Whilst there was no evidence to show that such facilities resulted in increasing the levels of drug use, in areas where they were set up.

Some drug users believe consumption rooms would be counter-productive.

Tommy Cairns, a former addict from Halifax, West Yorkshire, said: "Whoever came up with the idea has never been addicted to drugs.

"I use to take six bags of heroin a day, I got imprisoned for four and a half years for dealing, and let me tell you, a consumption room wouldn't have helped me.

"Abstinence from all drugs is the only way to begin recovery."

Image source, ARIS MESSINIS
Image caption,
Drug consumption rooms are used in other countries including Greece

But Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health and drug addiction at the University of York, called the government's position "outrageous".

He said: "The government has simply ignored all the evidence that has been presented to them which shows that drug consumption rooms can prevent deaths.

"We are still obsessed by this idea of abstinence, but the fact is more people are dying of drugs whilst the government still believes the same old strategies will somehow eventually work."

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the number of drug misuse deaths in England and Wales reached a record high in 2015.

There were 2,479 fatalities in 2015; more than double the number of similar deaths recorded 20 years earlier.

Although there are no plans to introduce consumption rooms, the Home Office said it supported local healthcare providers offering addicts the option of joining formal treatment programmes where they were prescribed replacement drugs such as diamorphine, often described as medical grade heroin.

Overall the government says it is "committed to taking action to prevent the harms caused by drug use and our approach remains clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities, help dependent individuals recover, while ensuring our drugs laws are enforced".

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